Starting a Project: Step by Step
Here is what to do if you want to start a new project or if someone has asked you to start a project.
Step #1: “Focus on your business.”
The old saying, “Mind your own business,” really has two parts: (1) you need to avoid getting involved in things that aren’t on your path to success, and (2) you need to know what business you are in and then mind that business with care. This saying may seem like a cliche’, but it is the first rule of business success. If you get this one wrong, nothing else will really go right. Implementation of this principle, involves careful project selection and definition. You should define the scope of your project so it embraces the areas for which you will be responsible. If you try to do a project outside of your area of influence, you will be likely to have problems. Understand the organizational boundaries between your business and others’. Look at risk areas in the potential project scope that you will not be able to influence, and try to contain these or define them out of your project area. If this is not a project you should be doing, then don’t do it. Effective project selection is the first step towards project success.
If you decide to proceed, here are the steps to get you going:
Step #2: Obtain management sponsorship and a clear charter.
The main reason projects fail is lack of upper management support and commitment, so be sure your bosses want you to proceed. Draft a charter of your responsibilities and scope as a project manager. You should write down what will be expected of you, the general project ground rules, and how you will obtain resources to do the job. You should also write in some of the items you will not be responsible for, just to keep things straight. Review the policies, procedures, and methods in your organization that govern the way projects are done. Edit the charter with your boss until you are both comfortable signing it. Understand your organization’s project selection and approval process, and perform the next steps iteratively through the early steps of that process.
Step #3: Understand and document your requirements.
This step is the most important step towards project success. It will serve as the basis for your plan, for your cost and schedule estimates, and it will enable you to manage changes as your project progresses. If the requirements are unclear, make some assumptions and document them. Put your requirements document under some sort of version control, and then manage the changes deliberately. If there are significant changes, you may need to revisit your cost and schedule estimates. Without a written requirements statement, you will have no way of accounting for changes and managing your customer and sponsor expectations.
Step #4: Document a realistic plan.
You need to document the linkage between your project scope description, the staffing and procurement estimates, and the schedule and then iterate these until they fit the organizational goals and constraints. Create a “project plan” document, and use this plan to communicate to stakeholders the assumptions and intentions of the project effort. Break your project into phases, incorporate the phases into your project schedule, and plan updates to your scope document, cost estimate, and schedule for before each phase transition review meeting. In addition to the phase transitions, which are gated by major milestone review meetings, structure the work within each phase into intermediate and lower level milestones, and link tasks to the production of deliverables (like requirements documents, design specifications, conceptual designs, detailed designs, Bills of Materials (BOMs), etc.) Unless your project is small and quick, write a work breakdown structure to help you map charge numbers, schedules, project metrics, etc. Do your best to reconcile the project scope, resource budgets, and schedule goals in a realistic way. If your plan is not realistic, it cannot possibly succeed as planned.
Step #5: Build your project team.
Develop a staffing plan based on your resource estimates of kinds and quantities of people required. Select the key people for your project team, and speak with each one individually to determine their interest level and to solicit their commitment to working productively and constructively on the project team. Steps #3 through #5 should be done iteratively, because key team members should be involved in understanding the requirements and documenting the plan.
Step #6: Assess your risks.
Identify areas of your project where there is uncertainty, with potential for significant negative consequences, and then formally designate these as “project risks.” Use the Scalable Methodology Guide from this web site to help you identify your risks and define management actions to avoid, mitigate, monitor, and manage your project risks. Add your list of risks and your risk management actions to your project plan and communicate them clearly at management review meetings.
Step #7 : Project Execution
If you have made it this far in your project, your plan is complete, you have obtained a decision to proceed, and you are ready to begin the project execution or implementation phase of your project. Assemble your project team for a formal kick-off meeting; make sure task leaders have clear ownership and responsibility for their project areas; manage your scope, cost, and schedule baselines carefully; and make sure you have metrics in place to monitor all the important vital-signs of your project.